The Hong Kong Family Race to the Top

by Cora Ha

You’re pregnant and people tell you that you better register your child in a kindergarten before all the spaces run out.  And before they can enter kindergarten at the age of three, your child better know how to speak, read and write in at least two languages, play an instrument and be good at least one sport.   Don’t forget the toilet training – no nappies allowed!

By the time your child hits primary school, the day looks something like this:  up at 6:30am, eating breakfast half asleep and on the school bus by 7:00, in school from 8:15-3:00 and then straight to math tutorials.  Following math is violin lessons and then home for a short 30 min break before sitting down to 1 hour of homework.  Thankfully, it’s dinner time for the child and the parents and everyone sits down to eat at 7:30 while watching TV, playing on an Ipad, and reading messages on the Blackberry.  Dinner is over and it’s time to really get down to business.  More homework and then violin practice.  Phew!  Done, just in time for bedtime stories at 10:00pm and ‘talking’ for relationship building at 10:30pm.  It’s lights out at 11pm. 

Exhausted, everyone falls into bed and the crazy race to the top starts all over again.  And that is not even during exam time!

Let’s throw into the mix an exhausted, confused helper who is being asked to do the job of 3 adults:  cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, chauffeuring (even if by public transport), and child-minding  - all this on less than 6 hours of sleep.

Could there be more to family life than this? 

Is more of everything really better?

Can you give your children the ‘edge’ by optimizing your children’s learning, and growing in other ways?

Here are four simple tips to help increase learning while decreasing stress:

1.     Sleep:  In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Marc Weissbluth, MD, provides these insightful comments on the functions of sleep:

"Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain's battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best."

2.     Open-ended, unstructured play:  Allowing children to play promotes active problem solving, creative thinking, and greater social-emotional stability.  These factors socially more balanced individuals whom studies show have increased capacities for higher learning in areas such as math and sciences down the road.

David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, writes: "Children's play – their inborn disposition for learning, curiosity, imagination, and fantasy – is being silenced in the high-tech, commercialized world we have created. Toys, about which children once spun elaborate personal fables, now engender little more than habits of passive consumerism. The spontaneous pickup games that once filled neighborhoods have largely been replaced by organized team sports and computer games."

3.     Relationship:  Studies show that children who have a healthy relationship and connection their parents and peers are more confident and generally have a greater chance of excelling in academic pursuits.  Cultivating “talk” around the dinner table takes a bit of practice but will yield great relational, emotional and academic rewards.

4.     Quiet time:  The amount of grey matter (for higher level processing) in the brain can be increased through having quiet time while thinking positive thoughts.  Recent U.C.L.A. studies (2012) are finding more evidence to prove that taking time out to “be still” is not only a nice luxury but also something that will enhance mental capacity and potentially physical health as well.


Cora Ha is a Certified Parent Coach and Educator. A pioneer in parent coaching, Cora Ha is a firm believer in laying down a firm family foundation based on core values. In her sessions, she guides you to define your family’s core values, and helps you implement your own guiding principles to navigate the joys and perils of parenting. You can reach Cora at OR fill out our contact form using the subject "Cora" or "Cora Ha" and we'll have Cora contact you directly. Mention "Arrow" and receive a 30 minute telephone consultation absolutely free.  

Allan SmithComment